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Saving Our Past

slide15By Heather Bryce

On August 31, 1954 Hurricane Carol, which originated in the Bahamas, made landfall on Eastern Long Island. In its trail of wreckage was the studio of Abstract Expressionists James Brooks and his wife Charlotte Park Brooks, perched high atop the Montauk cliffs. So the couple moved to Springs, where many of their artist friends, including Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, lived and worked.

James Brooks is perhaps best known for his large-scale mural, Flight, at the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, which he executed while working for the Works Progress Administration in 1940.
Their home, a one-story cottage that survived the storm, was moved by barge to Louse Point then by truck to an 11-acre parcel on Neck Path. After the couple’s deaths, East Hampton Town purchased the property, which contains the original house and two studios, for $1.1 million three years ago with money from the town’s preservation fund. The town planned to demolish the buildings and use the land for trails. But an outcry in the community was heard to preserve for posterity the buildings, which still contain such items as art books, canvas rolls and paint brushes poised in coffee cans.

One of the main actors in the movement to preserve the homestead is a couple known for their work in East End historic preservation, restoration and renovation. Robert Strada and Michelle Murphy Strada have founded Peconic Historic Preservation to support such programs as what is now called the Brooks Park Heritage Project. The artistic duo – he’s a former industrial designer turned professional historic house restorer, she’s a painter – are actively raising awareness of the “two major American artists who played a foundational role in the development of Abstract Expressionism” and soliciting funding to preserve the property for public art purposes. “Our mission is to celebrate the extraordinary artistic heritage of the Springs,” says Robert. “While the Pollock-Krasner House is funded by the deep pockets of donors like Stony Brook University, other artists’ houses and studios are being lost to development.”

The foundation is also active in helping with other projects, most notably Southampton’s 19th-century Pyrrhus Concer Homestead, once the home of a former slave. The foundation was instrumental in the deconstruction of the home and moving the structural frame and surviving architectural detailing from its original site and placing it in temporary storage. The Stradas are working with such other preservationists as Sally Spanburgh, chair of Southampton Town’s Landmarks & Historic Districts Board, to reconstruct it back at 51 Pond Lane where it could serve as an anchor for an East End African American museum, an idea in the making. “Our biggest challenge is to set up a general fund to rescue historic buildings – either to be moved or deconstructed so that they can be reconstructed on another site — being demolished by teardown mania.”

You can support the foundation by making a tax-free donation through the PayPal link on
www.preservepeconic.org.

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